Author: Lokenath Bhattacharya
Translator(s): Meenakshi Mukherjee
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0195665775
The Virgin Fish of Babughat is written in the form of a diary kept by an inmate of a very unusual prison. Filling up blank sheets of paper is part of his punishment, and his desperate attempt to hold on to a language that is slipping away from him gives these pages a strange intensity and vividness.
The novel is as much a political allegory as a parable of a world about to be taken over by consumerist culture. The prison camp tries to turn men and women into mindless carnal creatures, devoid of individual identity and human values. The title of the novel is a reminder of the reduction of female flesh to the level of a commodity; the tastiest fish are those that have not spawned, and so are the women who have never been pregnant. Yet it is not a dystopic novel, because, in a low key manner, it also celebrates the ultimate indestructibility of love and the desire for freedom.
Written three years before the Emergency was declared in India, the Virgin Fish of Babughat anticipates the chilling possibilities of power without accountability, and critiques the complicity of ordinary citizens in creating such a situation.
The novel is set in a sinister detention camp where men and women are divested of their clothes and their past, but provided with all the luxuries of life including unlimited sexual gratification.
The narrator, a writer before he was brought to the prison, has been meted a unique punishment: he must fill up a stack of paper with words every day. He turns this task into a life line, writing frantically to recapture a world that is he has lost, to resuscitate the very language that he is in danger of forgetting, and to record the systematic dehumanization which is taking place around him. Yet, his account is not altogether bleak: there are lively accounts of people and events, humour, tenderness, love, and even hope.
The Virgin Fish of Babughat